Test Score Fallout
July 29th, 2010

In the less than 24 hours since the release of new test scores and the state’s new definition of educational proficiency, it seems clear that, however much Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein might like this to go away — it won’t.

For years Bloomberg and Klein saw their reputations soar based on rising scores in elementary and middle school standardized tests. People who cast doubt on the gains — from noted education historian Diane Ravitch to teachers to mayoral candidate William Thompson to City Councilmember Charles Barron — saw themselves dismissed and even ridiculed by the administration and its sycophants on newspaper editorial boards, in much of the nonprofit community and across the city. Other school districts and the Obama administration rushed to embrace the kinds of change Bloomberg and Klein had wrought.

Today, the Neighborhood Retail Alliance reminded us, “Remember all of the hoo-ha last year over the need, the absolute compelling need, to maintain mayoral control of the schools? Sure you do. The need devolved from the fact, the absolute and compelling fact, that there was a Bloomberg educational miracle that needed to be preserved.”

What a difference a new set of data makes.

In his lengthy press conference at Tweed Courthouse yesterday, Bloomberg quibbled about the definition of “proficiency” — it depends whether you want to run a restaurant or be a nuclear physicist, he said. He told the reporters they were going to be “writing a story about a change in definition” — not about changes in achievement.

Certainly the state’s increase in the score that students must attain to be considered proficient means that thousands of kids once viewed as meeting standards no longer do. But the changes did not fall evenly. They disproportionately lowered the results for black and Latino students, special education students and English language learners.

While “all the arrows that had been trending up for years suddenly took a nosedive,” WNYC’s Beth Fertig found, “they didn’t fall quite as much for white and Asian students and wealthy districts as they did for low-income districts, black and Hispanic pupils, English Language Learners and special education pupils.”

More reaction after the jump.

For years, Bloomberg and Klein have trumpeted the reduction in the achievement gap as one of their signal achievements. And it would have been. Unfortunately its demise was greatly exaggerated. (For our analysis of that go here.)

The promotion of charter schools has been another key part of Bloomberg’s — and President Barack Obama’s education program. Too bad they too may not work as well as we thought.

In its analysis today, the Daily News concluded that, like the conventional public schools, charter school benefitted from the lax standards — perhaps even more so. The rate of kids meeting standards at charters fell by 34 percentage points in reading and 28 percent in math. Scrambling to explain, the New York City Charter School Center ‘s James Merriman told the paper “If you look at African-American and Hispanics citywide and take into account that charters serve 94 percent African-American and Hispanics, that probably explains it.”.

Interestingly many charter school proponents have dismissed similar arguments by critics that charter schools fared better on tests because they do not serve as many English language learners, special ed kids or homeless students as their conventional counterparts.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, the new scoring system and the accompanying decline in the percentage of students meeting standards has cast doubt on the Bloomberg administration’s emphasis on “accountability,” and its adherence to testing.

Given all the emphasis on data, Gabe Pressman commented, “We can wonder how the city’s own education department missed the boat on this one. Mayor Bloomberg … [has] repeatedly touted the virtually meaningless test scores.”

Focusing on one school that saw its results plummet, Schools Matter wondered, “Will anyone hold the mayor accountable for the fact that at PS179 in the Bronx the percentage of third graders proficient in math went from 91 percent to 21 percent in one year? Will anyone be accountable for the hundreds of thousands of children’s educational plans that were devised with nothing but phony data to use?”

The furor lent credence to some, such as city teachers, who had questioned the emphasis on these now disputed tests. “The city desperately needs a real instructional strategy to improve our schools,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said in his statement. “As it starts to put one together, I hope that this time the mayor and the chancellor listen to people who know something about education, including the teachers who actually spend their days helping kids learn.

“The results could cast doubts on the city’s improvements over the past several years” as Klein and Bloomberg “have used increases in state test scores as evidence that schools have improved,” Jennifer Medina wrote in today’s Times. “It certainly complicates the Bloomberg administration message, because the state test is completely unreliable,” Michael Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, a Washington-based research group, told Medina.

And not just Bloomberg. The revised scores, Medina continues, “could raise questions about the precision of educational testing, even as policy makers across the country, including President Obama, are relying on tests to determine teachers’ pay and whether a school should be shut.”

Jose Gonzalez, a leader of the Coalition for Educational Justice, urged the city to seize on the current score confusion to limit its reliance on testing. “It is a tragedy that at so many schools, the vast majority of the school year is spent drilling students to pass the state test instead of on a diverse, well-rounded curriculum … . And now it turns out these tests haven’t assessed real learning, and this test prep has been a complete waste of time for students, parents, and teachers,” he said in a release.

Leonia Haimson of Class Size Matters agreed. “Our kids — and our schools — should excel in all areas, not just on standardized tests, and the more policymakers focus on test scores to the exclusion of all else, as has happened in recent years, the less real learning will occur in our schools and the more our children will suffer,” she wrote.

The city’s current reforms “didn’t seem to yield much this year,” Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College, told Running Scared. “Fewer than half of the students in the city are meeting the standards that predict future success. And that means the city is going to have to come up with a new approach.”

The mayor and Klein, though, seem to be sticking to their positions. Aside from pledging to work harder, neither man professed any doubts about that they had done over the past eight years or what they might do going forward.

“There is a lot of evidence we are making great progress,” Bloomberg said “Everybody basically knows this is working.”

As they did during the battle over mayoral control, Bloomberg and Klein compared the system now to the one they inherited from a mayor who was so hostile to public education he asked the state to cut its school aid to the city. The choice, they say, is to is go back to the way it was or continue with their approach.

Are those really the only options?

Meanwhile for those not meeting academic standards, the mayor yesterday held out some hope. “The last time I checked,” he said, “Lady Gaga is doing fine with just a year of college.

By on July 29, 2010, 12:16 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Education,Gotham City | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “Test Score Fallout”

  1. Martin Krongold Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 11:16 am

    As usual, Gotham is a worrier and just too one-sided. Everyone knew results were inflated, but an inflation-adjusted 2009 to 2006 comparison suggests improvement is slow, but gradually upward. NAEP improvement is even slower, (flat or upward)and consistently accelerated over the rest of the state. Will be interesting to determine whether HS grad rates were artificially increased due to higher Regents pass rates. Please continue your unbalanced policy analysis so those who only care about kids, not politics, can focus on balanced truth.

  2. Gail Robinson Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Why do people who support the mayor’s policies, as I assume Mr. Korngold does, try to portray others as not caring about kids. As far as I know, Gotham Gazette has never said Bloomberg, Klein or their supporters don’t care about kids.

  3. Peter Meyer Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    “What a difference a new set of data makes.”

    Are you kidding? This is NOT a new set of data. Nor is it some kind of post hoc facto justification of Diane Ravitch’s criticisms of Bloomberg et al.

    State Ed simply admitted what many of us knew: it was dumbing down state test score results (i.e. the proficiency standard).

    That’s neither a pox on Bloomberg nor a reason to dismiss tests as benchmarks of knowledge.


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